A powerful conversation between two Targaryen princesses, and a confrontation between two Targaryen dragonriders.
The order of things: The conversation between Princess Rhaenys and Princess Rhaenyra
Princess Rhaenys had been where Princess Rhaenyra found herself in -- the line of succession to the Iron Throne, the clear choice as the next ruler, in a more just world that did not look down on women. Once upon a time, King Jaehaerys I presided over a prolonged period of peace and prosperity in the Seven Kingdoms. He and his sister wife Queen Alyssa had several children and a surfeit of heirs. Then, Prince Aemon, King Jaenaerys's eldest son, died.
Prince Aemon's daughter, Princess Rhaenys, was passed over in favour of his younger brother, Prince Baelon, as the new heir. But then, Prince Baelon, too, died. Princess Rhaenys was still a potential heir; she married Lord Corlys Velaryon, the wealthiest man and the greatest naval commander in the Seven Kingdoms. If her sex and that of her daughter Laena's precluded them from the line of succession, then the throne could go to Princess Rhaenys's son, Laenor Velaryon.
Again, Princess Rhaenys was passed over in favour of Prince Baelon's son Prince Viserys -- King Viserys in House of the Dragon. The show understandably simplified the question of succession for clarity, but Rhaenys was passed over as heir not once but twice. When she spoke to Princess Rhaenyra about the order of things, she spoke not to hurt, but from painful experience. There was nothing in Rhaenys's background or person that precluded her from sitting on the Iron Throne; the men who controlled the Seven Kingdoms simply decided that being a woman made her unfit. Her son could not even be heir, just because he descended from the female line, a lesser line than the male in their eyes.
Princess Rhaenyra had good reason to be confident about creating a new order. Unlike Rhaenys, Rhaenyra was already named heir. Lords of the Seven Kingdoms bent their knees to her and accepted her as their future Queen. Her own father passed on the great Targaryen secret, Aegon the Conqueror's dream of A Song of Ice and Fire, that was only passed from King to heir. Rhaenyra was still young enough to believe that though they may grumble, most if not all the lords of the realm would honour their vows.
Rhaenys and Rhaenyra were two Targaryens who could speak to each other as equals, and with a candour that others would not dare. When Rhaenys warned Rhaenyra that men would sooner put the realm to torch than see a woman ascend the Iron Throne, it was not out of unkindness, just bold reality. Both women were in pain in this scene; they spoke just as King Viserys was taking a walk with Laena Velaryon, Princess Rhaenys's 12-year-old daughter, whom the Velaryons put forth as a perfect match to the King (politically, she was). Rhaenys and Corlys Velaryon looked like they were satisfied with each other as husband and wife, but Rhaenys knew, as Aemma knew, the fate of women in Westeros. Yes, Laena could give birth to a future King, but that was no comfort to the reality that women, high born women, were pawns in political games that men played. Rhaenyra was determined that her life would be different. Rhaenys knew a princess's will held little sway over lords of the realm.
This blog could very well turn into a Milly Alcock fan site through the duration of her performance as Young Rhaenyra. She owns every single scene she is in. Here, she very confidently, yet calmly, fired back at Princess Rhaenys: 'Laena is your daughter, Princess. Does it brother you?' Eve Best, equally impressive and without missing a beat, replied, 'Of course it does.' Masterclass.
Be done with all this bother: Rhaenyra confronts Daemon in Dragonstone
The little smile Rhaenyra had on her after successfully retrieving Dreamfyre's dragon egg without bloodshed from her Uncle Daemon was one of my favourites in this epic scene. That to me was Rhaenyra confirming that Daemon was not her enemy. She already knew that Daemon was fond of her; the confirmation that he, Daemon effing Targaryen, would rather retreat and bruise his pride in front of his nemesis Otto Hightower (and Ser Crispin) than risk hurting her must have felt good, after all that she endured in this episode. Lords of the Seven Kingdoms were dismissive of her, including her own father; Prince Daemon Targaryen actually saw her and valued her over his pride.
Or, perhaps he simply made a calculated decision not to antagonise the only remaining close family member still speaking to him. After all, why kill her when he could, um, we'll get to that in future episodes.
Let's back up a bit. In Daemon's letter following his theft of the dragon egg, he named himself Prince of Dragonstone and heir to the Iron Throne. When Rhaenyra arrived, she calmly told Daemon that was her castle he was occupying. Daemon did not deny it. 'Not until you come of age' is a not yet, not a no. Daemon did not really want to wrest the succession away from Rhaenyra. The whole stunt was just to get his brother's attention. He likely hoped Viserys would fly to Dragonstone himself, which the King would have done had Ser Otto not stopped him. The bond between the brothers was strong. Had they been able to speak face to face, there was a very good chance Viserys would have welcomed his brother back to his capital.
Was Daemon an ambitious man? Absolutely. Was he also loyal to his closest family? Yes. This was not mentioned in House of the Dragon, but when Viserys's succession was in question following the death of Prince Baelon, Daemon gathered troops to support his brother at the same time that Lord Corlys Velaryon gathered his forces to press the claim of his son with Princess Rhaenys, Laenor Velaryon. That was Daemon, ready to protect his family.
What made this confrontation even better was the backdrop of Dragonstone, the ancestral seat of House Targaryen. Long before Aenar Targaryen fled Valyria with his family, his slaves, his wealth, and his dragons, Dragonstone already stood as the westernmost outpost of the Valyrian empire. It was a link to old Valyria, that legendary place where men somehow learned the art of taming dragons. The camera panned from a ship that purportedly bore Ser Otto and his party, through those large protruding rocks jutting out from the sea, the large archway that led to the long bridge, and at the top of the hill, the imposing castle built when dragonslords were plenty and dragons were in the hundreds. Caraxes was there, a reminder of Daemon's power. Syrax rose from the clouds like Rhaenyra cutting through all the male bs and showing that she was not a girl, not a cupbearer, not a princess to be humoured, but a royal Valyrian dragonrider.